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Don't Act Now

September 16, 2021

It’ll happen in the next five minutes. You might not even make it to the end of this post before it does. A member of your team is on their way to you right now — in person, by email, through IM — with their version of choice:

“Do you have a minute?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“I just wanted to check if it’s okay that we… “.

Whether it’s in person or when we notice the red badge on our messaging app, it’s in that moment that we have the opportunity to set ourselves apart from the vast majority of leaders and managers in the world. It is in that moment — when your team offers you the opportunity to disempower them — that you can politely decline.

“Just this once,” we say to ourselves. “The next time I’ll hold them accountable for figuring it out. I know I should be mentoring them instead of saving them, but I don’t have time for that today. We just have to get this done.”

The temptation to answer — to jump in and save the day — is incredibly strong. It’s not a stretch to call it an addiction, because it gives us a feeling that can take a lifetime of inner work to achieve — that who we are is enough and that the highest value we can offer to others is to not rescue them from having to take the next step of their journey for themselves.

The most common form this addiction takes in the modern office is telling our team that “our door is always open”. What we really mean when we say that is something different but which we don’t often verbalize. What we mean by that is, “before you walk through that open door you have assumed the accountability to take not just one, but at least five ‘micro-steps’”:

  1. You’ve done some research to look for the answer on your own (professionalism).
  2. You’ve asked at least one other member of the team before coming to me (collaboration).
  3. You’re not coming to vent or complain about a colleague (self-responsibility).
  4. You’re not coming to me to save you from having to take a risk, and perhaps, make a mistake (vulnerability).
  5. You’re not using me to cover a skill they don’t have (transparency).

The problem is that, for us, answering their question before they’ve taken these steps feels good. We feel like we’ve added value, made things easier for them, that we’ve improved productivity. But in fact, by answering their question before they’ve taken these steps, we’ve done exactly the opposite.

A team of people who aren’t challenged to think for themselves will default to the easy answers on the hard questions — taking us further and further away from our goal of a delightful customer experience.

Here’s the best part: challenging our teams to roll up their “mind-sleeves” before we’re available to help is not only the fastest way to reach our long-term goals for the business, it’s also the secret to creating a culture of deep engagement and personal meaningfulness for each and every member of our teams, no matter where they are on the org chart.

Can you hear them knocking?

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